Psychopathic personality

Most of us have heard of the psychopath if only from popular televisions shows like “Criminal Minds”. It is actually not included in the DSM-IV, the official diagnostic classification system used by North American psychiatrists. It is believed that 1% of the population may be psychopathic and a much higher percentage of prison populations, perhaps as much as 15-25%. We have had many recent examples of white collar psychopaths in business and politics. They are not all in prison.

Characteristics shared by psychopaths include: superficial charm, lack of remorse or guilt, parasitic lifestyle, need for stimulation, irresponsibility, grandiose sense of self worth, lack of empathy, and criminal behaviour. Those who get caught end up in prison, those who don’t may cause many other problems in our communities. They are the manipulative con men and women that we hear about every day who perpetrate frauds and scams of various types on the unsuspecting. They take advantage of the trusting and the weak without remorse. They are abundant on the internet, trolling for the unsuspecting and gullible from whom to extract whatever dollars they can.

While they may be motivated by similar things as other people, the extent of their needs is excessive and they have a sense of entitlement to whatever they want. They are also willing to do whatever it takes to get their needs met. They lack any sense of altruism, or concern for the welfare of others and the social rules and expectations that guide most people are irrelevant to psychopaths. They are only interested in themselves regardless of the cost to others and without guilt or remorse.

The cause of psychopathy is multifaceted. Twin studies support the role of genetic factors but there may also be environmental contributions such as neglectful, abusive childhoods. There is growing evidence that their brains are not normal and there are increasing attempts to identify the differences using various brain scan technologies.

There is no established treatment that has been shown to be effective.

The condition is often confused with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) which is included in DSM-IV. They are overlapping but not identical conditions. It is possible to meet diagnostic criteria for ASPD without being a psychopath.

In spite of the cost of these disorders to society they get relatively little research. One reason for this may be that those who suffer from other psychiatric disorders are viewed as victims while psychopaths are viewed as predators. Nevertheless, it would be a great boon to society if a treatment was developed.

When reading about psychopathy, or other conditions, it’s tempting to diagnose difficult friends, family members, acquaintances and coworkers with the disorder, but only a trained professional can make an accurate diagnosis. Many people have one or two psychopathic traits without being psychopathic, and those under extreme stress, suffering from mental illness or abusing substances may manifest many of the symptoms without being psychopathic by nature. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so while it is good to be aware of this condition , please avoid the temptation to make a diagnosis on your own.


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